Hi and welcome back. In today’s article we’re going to talk about the next two patterns from the Whitney pattern set. These are somewhat similar to the two patterns we’ve discussed yesterday, though there is a profound difference.

Just to quickly recap, here are the 6 Whitney patterns (today’s two patterns being highlighted):

  1. A piece of darker value in lighter values.
  2. A piece of lighter value in darker values.
  3. Large dark area and small light area in middle values.
  4. Large light area and small dark area in middle values.
  5. Gradation, in any direction, up, down, or across.
  6. “All-over pattern” as in textile design – an equal surface tension or visual strength throughout the rectangle.

And here’s the reference image and the sketch:

Reference Photograph; Image: ©2018 ATELIER NOVOTNY
Reference line drawing; Image: ©2018 ATELIER NOVOTNY

Pattern #3: Large Dark Area and Small Light Area in Middle Values

These next two patterns are where our options starts to open up a bit, providing us with even more fun ways to work with value.

Large dark area and small light area in middle values; Image: ©2018 ATELIER NOVOTNY

Notice the image above. It shows in total 5 value shapes, 1 light middle value shape, 1 dark middle value shape and 3 white shapes. Why are there 3 white shapes you may ask? The pattern says, after all, large dark and small light area in middle values. If you’d like to revisit my article on Shape, you may learn more about grouping, or linking, of shapes, connecting them into a single “super-shape”. If you just want the short version, shapes don’t have to be connected physically. Visual connection also is a way of grouping shapes into a shape that reads as a single shape. The resulting shape should be a good shape and it should create a small light “area”.

In our particular example here notice how the three white shapes connect visually. They have varying sizes, papa, mama and baby, as would Edgar Whitney say, meaning their sizes are varied but not random. Ideally, the grouping would be a bit tighter and not as spread out but since I demonstrate all six patterns on a single subject I think we can ignore some slight imperfections here. Anyway, the white shape, be it a single shape or a grouping, should be an interesting one, even more so when it stands on its own. Noticed the “papa” shape (the largest) and how it interlocks with not only the dark shape but borders with the middle value shapes as well. This way it is not isolated and, again, not that difficult to integrate (similar principle to our example from previous article on pattern #2). The fact that there are two additional shapes visually linking to the main white shape means that they extend it, improving the base shape further.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s take a look at one more interesting issue.

I’m sure that after looking at all these nondescript value shapes, you may wonder just how would one go about painting this with the myriad of nuances that are inevitably employed in any one painting? After all I promised in the last article that I will explain how to recover the structure within the large masses of values. Well, let me show you.

Here again the bigger picture is what matters. Please look again at the pattern above and consciously try to take it in. Now the secret lies in correct handling of the large masses of values. What this means is that your middle darks (representing the old buildings), though varied, should all stay within the middle dark value range, effectively reading as a mass of dark middle value. You’ll see what I mean in a minute. Here’s an example of how a painting based on the above value pattern may look like.

How a finished painting could look like based on “Large dark area and small light area in middle values”; Image: ©2018 ATELIER NOVOTNY

Now if after looking at the “finished” version of the pattern above you suddenly cannot see the pattern itself, I encourage you to either step back a little bit from your screen or even better squint down your eyes. This is an old trick that can be used very effectively to flatten down the value range of any scene or painting. The proper way to squint is to do so until you almost cannot see at all. That way you’ll clearly see how the painting follows the pattern sketch. Try it now. Keep your muscles relaxed and squint your eyes so they’re almost closed and look at the “painting” above.

To summarize, the trick to working with different values while not breaking up the pattern is to keep the values within certain limits. The dark mass can be easily composed of various values as long as the values are close together (close to dark middle value in this case) and as a whole make up the single area of value we established in our pattern. Notice that as you squint the main general masses still read clearly. There are some exceptions, like the slightly highlighted parts of where the road is visible, but they actually add to the painting and make for an exciting contrast. The important thing, once again, is that the big areas read well and follow the pattern.

Pattern #4: Large Light Area and Small Dark Area in Middle Values

Example of Large Light Area and Small Dark Area in Middle Values; Image: ©2018 ATELIER NOVOTNY

As you can see, this is pretty much a reverse of what we’ve just talked about, though we’ve seen that it’s not as simple as that when we talked about pattern #2 in the previous article. The subtle variations of value in our big masses cause almost endless amount of possibilities. Either way, the principle stays the same. The light mass is large and it is enclosed by middle value. Within the light area there is a small dark area that functions as an attention grabber.

Now again, it seems that this particular subject doesn’t cater particularly well to this pattern, though it can be worked out and executed successfully. What I mean by it not catering too well to this pattern is that the small dark shape, the attention-grabber, needs to be placed in a proper spot, meaningful spot, emphasizing the “idea” behind the picture. As it stands now it is definitely not incorrect at all in itself, but highlighting the roofs is not really what this painting is or should be about. Still, it works from the visual standpoint. The metaphor though doesn’t make that much sense.

And so we should always keep in mind that refining the visual quality of our paintings, though essential, is not all there is to painting. In any one painting we also need to think about the “story”, the “idea” that gives our paintings emotional content so we connect with our viewers. Paintings lacking in one or the other are not perfectly in balance. But that’s all right. There’s plenty of such paintings to be painted out before perfect balance is understood, experienced, possibly achieved. Therefore achieving such perfect balance shouldn’t be our inhibitor, rather our motivator and something we want to strive for. Something that keeps us going and wanting to try again and again.

Now this all being said, if we tried we could still improve the above example and I want to thank Russell Black for suggesting this solution. The following image shows a possible painting scenario from the above pattern where both of our ideas, story and visual, make sense. Since our light shape represents our building structures, the high value could suggest some kind of direct illumination. The darks of the roofs would then suggest lack of illumination. The scenario where this could be explained is an early morning sun, which when still low, hits the buildings straight on without hitting the rooftops at all.

Refined example of Large Light Area and Small Dark Area in Middle Values; Image: ©2018 ATELIER NOVOTNY

Notice that the rooftops are dark as are our horizontal planes. Our verticals then are light as if struck by sunlight. I even employed white to keep the light mass as light as possible, because modeling the structures required at least two additional values. The surrounding darker mass has also been pushed, though one step down the value scale. This should improve the overall readability of the image. This was needed since our white mass is quite varied at this point. This wouldn’t probably be my go-to pattern out of the six but as you can see it can be made to work.

And that’s pretty much it for today. I’m going to talk a little bit more about fusing visual pattern with our idea in the discussion on the “Gradation pattern”, so make sure to check back for Part 4. As always, let me know what you think in the comments down below, leave any questions or requests you may have and I’ll be happy to talk to you.



  1. Dave February 17, 2019 at 23:54

    thanks so much for this series. It is fascinating and useful.


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